The Texas Rangers are safely out of postseason contention in the top-heavy American League. At 40-52, the team has struggled to stay afloat in the AL West, sitting in last behind the Astros, Mariners, Athletics and Angels. With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline sitting just 20 days away, the Rangers are likely going to be sellers.
That makes one interesting left-handed starting pitcher potentially on the block: Cole Hamels.
Hamels has already faced trade deadline rumors once in his career, back when he was pitching with the Phillies. In 2015, he was traded to Texas in an eight-player deal that also netted the Rangers reliever Jake Diekman. With Texas, Hamels did what the Rangers hoped: take them to the postseason. Unfortunately for them, they were eliminated in back-to-back American League Division Series, both by the Blue Jays.
For the most part, Hamels did his part, serving as a rock-solid member of Texas’ rotation. In 2015, his first full season with Texas, Hamels went 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA and 200 strikeouts to just 77 walks over 200.2 innings pitched. Hamels’ 3.0 fWAR that season ranked 32nd out of 71 qualified starters.
Over the past two years, age has started to catch up to Hamels. He had been the epitome of a workhorse for nearly a decade, pitching more than 200 innings in seven straight seasons from 2010 to 2016; his 1,474.2 innings over that stretch are the sixth-most in baseball.
But, last year, Hamels missed a significant portion of the season due to an oblique strain. Even in the 148 innings that he did pitch, Hamels’ numbers began to dip. His 4.20 ERA was the second-highest mark of his career (at the time), and his 17.1 percent strikeout rate was by far his lowest.
Now 34, Hamels still isn’t the pitcher that he used to be, but his numbers show encouraging signs that he is healthier now than he was last year. Hamels’ 4.28 ERA clearly is not ideal, neither are his 21 home runs allowed, third among all starters. But his 23.5 percent strikeout rate and his 8.7 percent walk rate are more in line with career averages, leading some to believe that poor batted ball luck in a hitter’s ballpark—not diminished skill—is what is ballooning Hamels’ ERA.
Proponents of acquiring Hamels point to his home and road splits this season to show that he still has the ability to be a good pitcher if put in a different ballpark. In 54 innings at home, Hamels’ ERA is 5.83, and he has allowed 14 home runs with a 48 to 18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 49 innings on the road, Hamels’ ERA is 2.57, with a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (58-to-21) and a half of the home runs allowed (7).
Cole Hamels’ home-road splits
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Not only does Hamels have the ability to be an on-field contributor for an acquiring team, but his impressive pitching pedigree makes him an addition in the clubhouse as well. Hamels has four All-Star appearances, and has made 16 career postseason starts, giving him the postseason experience and veteran presence that many teams look for.
Nothing was more memorable than Hamels’ 2008 postseason, when the Phillies won all five of his starts across three postseason rounds en route to their World Series victory. Hamels’ two World Series starts, in which he allowed just four runs over 13 innings, netted him the World Series MVP award.
If that’s not enough, Hamels is also a favorable addition for teams due to his contract situation. He is not a rental. Hamels’ deal includes a team option for 2019 at $20 million with a $6 million buyout. Depending on how much money the Rangers are willing to take on in a trade, Hamels could potentially become an affordable option for not just the remaining three months of the 2018 season, but also for the entirety of the 2019 season.
Of course, all of this depends on how negotiations go; generally speaking — and this is almost always how things go — acquiring teams who are willing to take on more money in a trade do not have to pay as high of a prospect price. Texas may decide from the get-go that they would prefer to take on more money in order to get more or better prospects return. They also may decide to see what teams have to offer in terms of both prospects and money. It all is still yet to be determined.
This, combined with the fact that this year’s starting pitching market proves to be fairly weak, have generated significant interest in the veteran lefty. The Mariners, Yankees and Phillies have been connected to Hamels through reported rumors, but there are likely to be many more interested teams as the deadline inches closer over the next few weeks.
Both Seattle and New York have rotations that rank in the top ten in baseball in fWAR, yet both have a fairly obvious place for Hamels.
James Paxton has been by far the Mariners’ best pitcher, and Mike Leake (4.11 ERA; 0.9 fWAR), Marco Gonzales (3.64 ERA; 2.2 fWAR) and Wade LeBlanc (3.15 ERA; 0.7 fWAR) have been solid behind him. Felix Hernandez, though, does not have his old, ace-like stuff anymore. He has a 5.13 ERA, but because of solid peripherals, he has a 4.60 FIP and a 0.7 fWAR. If Seattle wants to keep pace with Houston and try to keep themselves out of the AL Wild Card Game, a rotation upgrade like Hamels may make sense.
The Yankees have no depth. Luis Severino is an ace and CC Sabathia continues to be solid, even at his age, but beyond that, there’s not much. Sonny Gray has been awful, and the collection of Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa cannot be trusted. Masahiro Tanaka, a staple in the Yankees’ rotation, just returned from the disabled list. Like with Seattle, as the Yankees are in a dogfight in the AL East, another starting pitcher is almost necessary to make the jump to the top of the division.
Then there are the Phillies, who also have a top ten rotation. Hamels’ fit there is less clear. While it would be quite the story having Hamels return to Philadelphia in their first pennant race in seven years, the Phillies’ rotation is actually—dare I say it—quite full.
Aaron Nola is one of the three best pitchers in the NL, Zach Eflin has been a pleasant surprise and Jake Arrieta was given too much money to move elsewhere. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are still question marks, especially with the latter on the DL (though he stay there should not be long), but some still prefer having them trying to develop in the rotation before even considering a move to the bullpen. The Phillies are in a tough position, as they try to balance development and contention.
With each passing day, it becomes more likely that Cole Hamels will be traded. With some upside in his 2018 stats, a fantastic history with postseason success and an extra year of team control, he should be one of the most coveted assets at the 2018 trade deadline in just a few weeks.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.